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Remembering the unwanted: Dr. Kenneth Koma

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

It is common knowledge that this year, 2016, marks Botswana’s fiftieth anniversary of Independence. Many of our people made sacrifices and contributions for us to have reached such a milestone. It is because of these men and women that we enjoy the peace and stability parallel to none, at least within our continent.

Unfortunately, government’s narrative, or to put it bluntly, propaganda is that only those who supported the status quo or who were pro-government contributed to the milestone we will be celebrating in about six months from now. This cannot be true.

In this series, we remember those of our heroes and heroines who, though unwanted by government, made immense contributions to the legacy we are celebrating this year. A case is made that government’s attempt to re-write history by omitting these heroes and heroines’ contributions to our success as a nation cannot succeed.

In discussing these men and women’s contributions we shall not pretend that they were without fault. Their faults will be exposed with the same vigor as their successes will. Yet, emphasis will be made that their faults notwithstanding they deserve a place in our country’s history.

As it will be seen as this series progresses these men and women are not of one political ideology or political party. They reflect the plurality of our political diversity. Nor are they of one tribe or gender. They are not of one religion. They are Batswana who share one thing in common, country commitment and honor.  

It is instructive that we start with Dr. Kenneth Koma. He founded the Botswana National Front (BNF) in 1965 after the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)'s landslide victory in the self-government elections and served it as its President from 1977 to 2001.

Dr. Koma was elected BNF president in 1977, taking over from Chief Bathoeng Gaseitsiwe who voluntarily relinquished his leadership position. Under Dr. Koma’s leadership, the BNF was the main Opposition party  until around 2009. In the 1994 general elections it won 37.1% of the vote, winning thirteen out of fourty parliamentary seats.

One of the greatest contributions that Dr. Koma made to this country was to contribute to the establishment and growth of a strong Opposition which, by challenging the ruling BDP’s policies and suggesting alternative policies, forced the BDP to work harder in improving Batswana’s lives.

Guided by his Marxist theoretical orientation, Dr. Koma’s contribution to the growth of a strong Opposition was, in part, through the development and writing of alternative political theories and programmes such as the ones espoused in his popular Pamphlet No.1 publication. These theories contributed to our success in two ways.

Firstly, the BDP, albeit covertly, adopted some of the theories and translated them into such programmes as the Accelerated Rainfed Arable Programme (ARAP), Arable Lands Development Programme (ALDEP), Services to Livestock Owners in Communal Areas (SLOCA) and the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP). These programmes, albeit with limitations, contributed in the development of our people.

Secondly, many of our country’s political leaders, professionals and Academics were inspired by Dr. Koma’s teachings and study groups and have used such inspiration to contribute to our people’s development in a variety of ways.

While Academics contribute to the development of contemporary leaders by imparting socio-economic and political theories to students though such disciplines as Political Science, political leaders live such theories and use political parties to fight for the emancipation of our people from poverty, exploitation in the workplace and any form of subjugation.

Himself highly educated, Dr. Koma, an assiduous reader, has led to the development of an Intelligentsia which has contributed to our country’s development. Many who read for such disciplines as Law, Political Science and Economics did so because they were following Dr. Koma’s footsteps.

According to the BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee, Dr. Koma “…used his extensive contacts in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union where he had studied for almost seven years, he organized scholarships for scores of Batswana to pursue their studies there. K.K. Motshidisi, O.K. Menyatso, Mareledi Giddie, Conference Lekoma, Henderson Tlhowe, Harry Tlale and others benefitted from these scholarships”.

The BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee further states that “in the early 1970s he had also established a secondary school in Mahalapye, where he taught for some time. A number of students who could not get admitted to Government secondary schools had the opportunity of pursuing their secondary education at that school. He wrote a pamphlet on problems of Education in Africa entitled, “Education in Black Africa.”.

According to the BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee, “Dr. Koma had an LLB from Nottingham University, Certificate in French, an M.A. in History, Philosophy and Political Economy from Charles University, Prague Czechoslovakia, and Phd in Political Science from the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, the Soviet Union”. Who cannot be motivated by a man with such academic distinction?

Dr. Koma’s publication, Pamphlet No. 1, described by the BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee as “a superlative exposition of BNF’s politics and elaboration of its strategy and tactics” contributed greatly to the education of not only party activists, but many who today hold various leadership positions, even in government.

Since being elected to Parliament in 1984, Dr. Koma contributed immensely to the quality of debates in Parliament. This not only made the Executive to account to the voters through Parliament, but also enhanced the voter’s interest in politics, resulting in high voter turn-out during elections.

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Koma’s contribution to our country was saving us from civil wars and armed conflict when he, unlike such Opposition leaders of his time with leftist leanings as Dr. Jonas Savimbi of Angola, advocated for a politics of dialogue and never encouraged his followers to resort to arms.

Like every human being, Dr. Koma’s life was not without blemish. During his tenure as BNF leader, Dr. Koma, a Marxist opposed to the   bourgeois policies of the BDP, was revered. He became a cult figure whose followers became disciples. It is this cultism which made him ‘infallible’. Regrettably, it is this ‘infallibility’ which made the BNF’s foundation defective.

The BNF’s splinter parties formed in 1989 and 1994 were not a result of appreciable doctrinal differences, but a result of dissatisfaction on Dr. Koma’s leadership style. Yet, owing to the blind following by his disciples, Dr. Koma was seldom challenged.

Unfortunately, when the 1998 split, which led to the formation of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), happened it was too late. The split followed an aborted BNF congress, dissolution of the Central Committee by Dr. Koma, and a bitter court battle.

Naturally, in the   1999 general elections, the BNF’s vote share declined to 26% when it won only six parliamentary seats. In the   2004 general elections it further declined to 26.1% of the popular vote, winning a paltry twelve of the fifty seven parliamentary seats.

In the 2009 general elections, it won only six parliamentary seats which fell to five following the defection of its former Vice President,  Olebile Gaborone, to the BDP in July 2010.The final nail on the coffin was when, in 2003, Dr. Koma, did the unthinkable, abandoning the BNF and forming a new party, the New Democratic Front (NDF).

The BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee put it succinctly when it said: “like any individual, comrade Koma was not infallible, had faults and imperfections and was on occasion prone to commit mistakes. But weighed on the scale of History these pale into insignificance especially when juxtaposed with his colossal talent and other formidable leadership attributes”.

Dr. Koma’s shortcomings notwithstanding, he is no doubt a hero who deserves mention as we celebrate our country’s 50th anniversary of independence. I cannot put it better than the BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee when it said “…Comrade Koma undoubtedly belongs to a pantheon of the finest and greatest men and women that this country has ever produced.” 

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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